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PolitiFact Oregon is no stranger to claims about just how much the Public Employees Retirement System drives state spending.
Not too long ago, we checked into Gov. John Kitzhaber’s claim that half of the $1,000 per student increase in spending in primary and secondary education in the next biennium was due to the retirement costs. (The statement was true.) So when fiscal conservative Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, made his own retirement system claim, our ears perked right up.
In a newsletter to constituents, Richardson noted that "$1,100 of the tuition paid by every Oregon university student annually goes just to pay the costs of PERS."
The representative's source was a presentation by Jay Kenton, the Oregon University System’s vice chancellor for finance and administration.
Kenton had given a presentation on what drives the cost of higher education. Naturally, retirement and health care costs are a big piece of the equation.
Essentially what Kenton had done was to take the total retirement costs of employees -- both faculty and staff -- paid in part from tuition. He then prorated the total by actual percentage of it paid with tuition dollars.
After all that math, he found that the projected share of an individual student’s annual tuition going toward university staff retirement benefits for the 2012-13 year was $849. That’s actually about on par for what it was the previous year, too.
So how did Richardson get the $1,100 figure? Well, that’s where Kenton’s projections put the figure for the 2013-14 school year, should Kitzhaber’s proposed reforms not be enacted.
With the technical bits out of the way, we went back to Richardson’s statement. He said that "$1,100 of the tuition paid by every Oregon university student annually goes just to pay the costs of PERS."
He’s right, but only if the projections come to pass. In other words, we may get there, but we haven’t yet. As it is now, that figure is closer to $850. It’s still high, to be sure, but it’s about $250 less than the figure Richardson is using.
The ruling: Richardson’s statement reads as if we’ve been at the $1,100 mark for a while, when in truth we haven’t actually gotten there. If the Legislature passes significant reforms this year -- a big if -- we may never get there.
If we were writing a newsletter, we’d have gone with the most recent solid figure from the 2011-12 school year, which is about $850. Or, we would have made it clearer that the $1,100 was an extrapolation, a prediction. Richardson did neither.
Though his claim is accurate, it requires additional information. We rate this claim Mostly True.
Dennis Richardson, "Are Proposed PERS Reforms Legal?," March 15, 2013
E-mail from Dawn Phillips, legislative assistant to Rep. Dennis Richardson, March 26, 2013
E-mail from Diane Saunders, spokeswoman for Oregon University System, March 28, 2013
Presentation by Jay Kenton, the Oregon University System’s vice chancellor for finance and administration, March 13, 2013
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